Analysis: Has support for the Sweden Democrats peaked?

Sweden's far-right had hoped to overtake the "establishment" in weekend elections and become the country's biggest party, but, having fallen well short of that goal, some are now wondering whether support for the Sweden Democrats has peaked.

Analysis: Has support for the Sweden Democrats peaked?
Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Åkesson at the party's election night event. Photo: Lars Pehrson / SvD / TT

The anti-immigration party came in third, behind Prime Minister Stefan Löfven's Social Democrats and the opposition conservative Moderates, with 17.6 percent of votes, up 4.7 points from the 2014 elections.

But that rise is smaller than the 7.2-point increase the party saw between 2010 and 2014, and far below the expectations of party leader Jimmie Åkesson, who, several hours before polling stations closed, said he was confident of winning “20 to 30 percent”. It was also well below several opinion polls prior to the election, with  the most favourable ones suggesting support around 26 percent.

So was the election result a setback for the party?

“Not at all,” said Mattias Karlsson, head of the party's parliamentary  group and its main ideologue. “All parties want to be as big as possible but we are the big winners of the election,” he told AFP.

After having largely underestimated the Sweden Democrats in previous elections, polling institutes overcompensated this time and overestimated them, he said.

READ ALSO: What next for Sweden after election nailbiter?

'Victory or death': Top Sweden Democrat criticized for Facebook election comments

Mattias Karlsson speaking at the Sweden Democrats' election night event. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Yet the fact remains that they did not see the breakthrough they hoped for, and the seven other parties in parliament continue to ostracize the far-right and exclude it from discussions to form a new government.

“Their core voters are white men from the working class, but they've broadened their electoral base, with more women, more immigrants and more people in big cities,” says Anna-Lena Lodenius, an investigative journalist specializing in far-right movements.

“They may still be able to climb by three or four points” and match the levels enjoyed by the far-right in other European countries such as Switzerland or Austria, she says.

The Sweden Democrats are the biggest party among men, garnering 25 percent of all male voters. But they attract “only” 25 percent of working class voters and 15 percent of women voters. They also attract 15 percent of first-time and white collar voters.

“We think we can still grow in some areas, like women, union members, voters of foreign background,” said Karlsson, who on Monday wrote in a Facebook post that there were only two options ahead: “victory or death.”

While immigration and integration of immigrants played a big part in the election campaign, the far-right “ran up against a strong ideological counter-offensive” from the Greens and the ex-communist Left, as well as the Centre Party, a member of the centre-right Alliance, notes Linköping University professor Anders Neergaard.

And the right-wing parties, the Moderates and Christian Democrats, also attracted some far-right supporters by adopting some of the Sweden Democrats' ideology — at times using rhetoric verging on Islamophobic.

READ ALSO: Will Swedish values survive the next two weeks?

Risk of radicalization

Generally, the far-right's geographical and sociological base is not spreading dramatically.

“They're growing everywhere, but they're strong where they already were strong and weak where they are generally weak,” such as the three big cities of Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö, notes Lund University political science professor Anders Sannerstedt.

Two factors will likely influence the far-right going forward, experts suggest. Firstly, the party's position in parliament's balance of power the next  four years; and secondly, whether Sweden will succeed in integrating the hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers it has taken in.

“If they don't get the influence they want, there is a clear risk that they will radicalise … Then they'll either grow or their voters will tire of them,” Lodenius predicts.

Should the left- and right-wing reach a cross-bloc cooperation to shut out the Sweden Democrats — an idea currently being tossed around — “they will be seen as the only opposition party,” Sannerstedt adds.

And if efforts to integrate immigrants were to yield better results, “immigration will be perceived as less problematic.” But, he says, “there's nothing to indicate that that will be the case.”

The unemployment rate among foreign-born people is four times that of those born in Sweden. Meanwhile, the Sweden Democrats' success in municipal elections held the same day has left them short-handed. In their strongholds in the south, they won more mandates in local elections than they have candidates to fill seats.

“People are subjected to a lot of threats, there's a strong social exclusion, in workplaces and unions. You lose friends or jobs, and that makes it hard for us to recruit people,” says Karlsson. Despite its electoral success, “the Sweden Democrats remain a pretty hated party,” Sannerstedt notes.

By Gaël Branchereau

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What’s the Swedish Christian Democrats’ abortion contract all about?

Ebba Busch, leader of Sweden's Christian Democrats on Monday presented an "abortion contract", which she wants all of Sweden's party leaders to sign. What's going on?

What's the Swedish Christian Democrats' abortion contract all about?

What’s happened? 

Ebba Busch, leader of Sweden’s Christian Democrat party, called a press conference on Monday in which she presented a document that she called “an abortion contract”, which was essentially a pledge to safeguard the right of women in Sweden to have an abortion.  

“There is room for signatures from all eight party leaders,” she said. “I have already signed on behalf of the Christian Democrats.” 

What does the so-called “abortion contract” say? 

The document itself is fairly uncontroversial.

It states simply that Sweden’s law on abortion dates back to 1974, and that it grants women the right to an abortion up until the 18th week of pregnancy, with women seeking abortions later in their pregnancy required to get permission from the National Board of Health and Welfare. 

“Those of us who have signed this document support Sweden’s abortion legislation and promise to defend it if it comes under attack from forces both within our country and from outside,” the document reads.  

Why have the Christian Democrats produced it? 

The decision of the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs Wade, and so allow US states to ban abortion has aroused strong feelings in Sweden, as elsewhere, and Busch is seeking to send a strong signal to distance her own Christian party from the US religious right. 

Abortion has been a recurring issue within the Christian Democrats with several politicians and party members critical of abortion. 

Lars Adaktusson, a Christian Democrat MP, was found by the Dagens Nyheter newspaper to have voted against abortion 22 times when he was a member of the European parliament. 

The party has also in the past campaigned for the right of midwives and other medical professionals who are ethically opposed to abortion not to have to take part in the procedure. 

So why aren’t all the other party leaders signing the document? 

Sweden’s governing Social Democrats, and their Green Party allies, dismissed the contract as a political gimmick designed to help the Christian Democrats distance themselves from elements of their own party critical of abortion. 

“It would perhaps be good if Ebba Busch did some homework within her own party to check that there’s 100 percent support for Sweden’s abortion legislation,” Magdalena Andersson, Sweden’s prime minister, said. “That feels like a more important measure than writing contracts between party leaders and trying to solve it that way.”  

In a debate on Swedish television, Green Party leader Märta Stenevi argued that it would be much more significant if Busch’s own MPs and MEPs all signed the document. 

It wasn’t other party leaders who needed to show commitment to abortion legislation, but “her own MPs, MEPs, and not least her proposed government partners in the Sweden Democrats and even some within the Moderate Party”. 

She said it made her “very very worried” to see that the Christian Democrats needed such a contract. “That’s why I see all this more as a clear sign that we need to move forward with protecting the right to abortion in the constitution,” she said. 

How have the other right-wing parties reacted? 

The other right-wing parties have largely backed Busch, although it’s unclear if any other party leaders are willing to actually sign the document. 

Tobias Billström, the Moderates’ group parliamentary leader, retweeted a tweet from Johan Paccamonti, a Stockholm regional politician with the Moderate Party, which criticised the Social Democrats for not signing it, however. 

“It seems to be more important to blow up a pretend conflict than to sign the Christian Democrats’ contract or look at the issue of [including abortion rights in] the constitution, like the Moderates, Liberals and Centre Party want to,” Paccamonti wrote. 

The Liberal Party on Sunday proposed protecting abortion rights in the Swedish constitution, a proposal which has since been backed by the Moderate party and the Centre Party